My name is Yasmine, and I am approaching my eighteenth year. I’m barely five feet tall, but my rebellious attitude makes up for it, I was always getting into trouble with the elders for not obeying the rules and keeping to my place as a girl growing into a woman should. I have emerald green eyes, golden brown skin, and long raven black hair that I wear in a bun at the base of my neck. My village community was small, with only around two thousand people, and we were what outsiders considered old-fashioned and self-sufficient, which meant that everyone worked, regardless of age but like all old styled villages the men had their place and so did the women, we all travelled by horse, horse and cart, or on foot.
We have the fundamental stores that any country town has or requires in the village’s main centre, including a seamstress for our clothes, a butcher, a bakery, and a market for all the fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, and any food for the village’s animals. In addition, we have a small school, a blacksmith, and a healer. The blacksmith and the healer are the only ones who leave the village to purchase supplies in the surrounding larger cities; occasionally, they even return with extra fabric for the seamstress or sometimes a trinket or two for one or more of the village’s younger children. I suppose it’s not bad for a little village in the middle of nowhere, surrounded on three sides by dense woods.
The village is buzzing right now as we prepare for our annual celebration. Every year, the community holds a celebration to commemorate another exceptional year and to make an offering for a prosperous year to come. They festooned the village with colourful streamers and flowers, and all the other businesses are working overtime to prepare for the upcoming celebration. We appear to get a few more visitors on the day of the celebration, which is beneficial because it permits our blacksmith and healer to make supply runs in the coming year. I believe one of the elders negotiated a deal with a tour bus company in one of the larger towns so that once a year, a bus full of visitors stops in the village for a couple of hours specifically for the celebration, ensuring that they leave before nightfall. Now and again, on the night of the celebration, two young villages would vanish, sometimes two girls, sometimes two guys, or a girl and a guy. No one knows where they go or what happens to them since they vanish without a trace.
My mother was one of the girls that disappeared during the celebration a few months after I was born, so I was raised by my grandma. My grandma was now known as the village’s crazy elder because she believed in strange stories like wolves that could transform into humans and enter the village in search of a mate. The celebration, she claims, was a ruse to allow these wolves in human form to enter the community undetected and then leave later that night with the guy or girl of their choice. It was the elders’ justification for keeping the village safe from intruders, whether supernatural or ordinary strangers.
The other story my grandmother told was about the creatures that would come into our village every five years. Grandmother’s mother informed her that one year, shortly after she turned eighteen, the beasts were enraged with the village elders because they had violated their partnership, so they looted everything and abducted everyone who had just turned eighteen or was going to reach eighteen soon. She’d gotten away and hidden so they couldn’t locate her, but she could still see and hear what was going on. “I will come every five years to collect what is owing to me,” the creature’s leader stated.
If no one was chosen at the celebration, the elders of the village made a decision and presented the creatures with an offering. Following the celebration, a girl and a boy would be sedated, blindfolded, and bound to the offering posts just outside the village line and just within the woods. The chosen were re-sedated and returned to their homes back to the village if the creatures did not take their offering after twenty-four hours. The choice and offering was always someone who had just turned eighteen and was normally a virgin, which is why my grandma was taken aback when my mother vanished.
I didn’t fit in with the rest of the villagers; yeah, I had friends, but I stood out. I seemed to have more confidence and bravery than everyone else, and many of my peers used to claim that I didn’t have more confidence or bravery, but rather more ignorance and idiocy as I grew up because when I was old enough to comprehend what my grandmother’s stories meant and that she believed them. Skipping my tedious studies at the village school, I would go watch the guys train to fight, despite the fact that they never seemed to apply their training on the one night that mattered. After a while, I began to mimic their actions, and one day I was practising the manoeuvres they had been learning when one of the younger guys noticed me. He yelled, alerting everyone to my presence, and the elder instructor approached me. As he approached me, I realised it was Elder Miles. I bowed as I watched everyone else do, and he seemed to have a sneer on his face as he asked, “Do you believe you’re good enough to join us?”
When I say “Yes Sir!” I believe I astound everyone. Bow once again. He then turns and signals for me to follow, which I do, and as we approach the group of males, Elder Miles claps his hands. The guys race to form a circle and then drop down on their knees. Elder Miles brings me into the circle and then gestures to a man saying “Charles!” He rises and bows to elder Miles before joining us in the circle’s centre. Elder Miles then turns to face me and says,
“If you can get Charles here to the ground three times, I’ll teach you how to fight correctly.”
Everyone in the circle laughs, but it doesn’t make me nervous or fearful; instead, it makes me want to prove them all wrong. Elder Miles takes a step back and claps his hands once, and Charles moves in front of me and adopts the combat position I’ve seen them all undertake. I block Charles’s first few strikes, but he hits me hard enough that I fall to the ground, and everyone laughs again. As I rise to my feet, I strike the ground with my fist. I immediately confront him, and he repeatedly throws me to the ground, making me even more enraged and embarrassed. I glance at elder Miles as his face falls, and he shakes his head, thinking about some of the few things I could remember him saying and one of the key ones he kept repeating.
‘Never let your emotions to get the best of you and you can achieve anything!’
Taking a deep breath, I slowly release it, returning to my feet. I gaze at Charles and try to stay as still as possible while I dodge his punches, waiting for an opportunity. I then sweep his legs, knocking him to the ground. Now it’s Charles’ turn to be irritated and embarrassed, so I do the same thing he did and knock him back to the ground again. I smile as, after a brief struggle, I manage to force him to the ground once more. As I bow towards Elder Miles, he claps his hands and returns to the centre of the circle, where he addresses the lads, “She will now join our training.”
Some of the guys sigh, but they all stand up and greet me, congratulating me on a strong fight. Charles even came over to me and shook my hand, saying,
“It’s going to be interesting and I’m looking forwards to practising with you.”
I started training the next day and quickly rose to the top of the class; the other Elders thought Elder Miles was crazy for allowing me, a girl, to train with all the boys, but it was Elder Miles who always smiled when I came out on top at the village fight days. Even though these combat days were merely practise and a grading test to assess where everyone was, they were always entertaining. Charles became a dear friend of mine, and we always kept an eye out for each other during the tests. At six feet, he towers over me, with sandy blonde hair and lovely sapphire blue eyes, but he, like me, has nice golden brown skin that has been darkened by him working and training in the sun. I discovered Charles was almost twenty-five after we became friends, and I’ve had a secret attraction for him since that first fight in front of Elder Miles. I’m not going to reveal to anyone, especially him, because I’m hoping he’ll feel the same way after I’m eighteen.